TAMPA — Tampa's James A. Haley VA Medical Center is taking steps to provide faster care amid an ongoing scandal about secret wait times at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix.
Haley director Kathleen Fogarty emailed staff and others Friday to describe new methods of ensuring quicker treatment. Staff will contact all veterans on an electronic waiting list in an effort to get them care sooner than 90 days.
High-demand specialities at Haley include dental, gastroenterology, ophthalmology, neurology, orthopedics, podiatry and urology, according to Fogarty's email.
On Monday, Haley also set up a call center for patients. Staff will make three attempts to reach each veteran on the waiting list. When possible, staff members will schedule earlier clinic appointments for veterans.
Officials also will consider extending clinic hours and plan to get some patients seen through the non-VA Care Coordination program.
Patients can call Haley toll-free at 1-888-716-7787.
"Access and scheduling is complicated, but our goal is to get every veteran in and seen as quickly as possible and give them the highest quality health care available to them," said Karen Collins, the hospital's spokeswoman.
In 2013, Haley treated more than 89,000 veterans, Collins said. They have about 4,000 outpatients on any given day.
The scandal began in May, when the VA inspector general reported an average wait time of 115 days for veterans at a Phoenix facility, a fact hidden from federal regulators.
At least 40 veterans allegedly died while waiting for care. Whistle-blowers claim that other VA hospitals throughout the country use similar fraudulent practices to conceal wait times.
Officials at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center near Seminole did not return calls Monday asking if their procedures are changing.
"Veterans must feel safe walking into our VA facilities, and VA employees must work continuously to provide them with the highest quality care," Fogarty said in the email to the Haley staff.
Julie Kliegman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401. Follow @jmkliegman on Twitter.